Animals have been talking to humans since the days of Mister Ed, but it took the success of "Babe" to persuade 20th Century Fox there was money to be made from Hugh Lofting's eccentric hero in 1998. Back in 1967 Richard Fleischer's musical version of "Dr Dolittle" almost ruined the studio, but thanks to Eddie Murphy and a menagerie of wisecracking creatures this update went on to make $290 million worldwide.
Murphy plays John Dolittle, a San Francisco medic who rediscovers his childish ability to understand what animals are saying. Since he and his venal partner Oliver Platt are about to strike a lucrative deal with a major corporation, the last thing he needs is to have tigers, guinea pigs, pigeons, and monkeys come to him for advice. Gradually, however, he comes to appreciate his gift, which reminds him why he became a doctor in the first place.
Forget the sentimental whimsy: the only reasons to see this slight but agreeable comedy are: one, the technical wizardry that enables the animals to lip-sync their snappy dialogue, and two, the army of unseen celebrities who supply their voices. Albert Brooks, Garry Shandling, Ellen DeGeneres, and Chris Rock are just a few of the stars involved, though it's Norm Macdonald's laconic turn as Lucky the dog that proves the most memorable.
Murphy himself is rather dull in the straight man role, and the jokes are pretty coarse for a family film. But it's certainly better than the lacklustre sequel, which finds Eddie playing second fiddle to a performing bear.